#COVID19Chronicles-16: April 30, 2020: Back to some good old ways?

While we sat at dinner last night, I said “Looks like we are going back to the future.” My daughter looked puzzled and asked “You mean back to the past?” I explained that it means looking to our past to find things to help us advance.

It’s funny to see what’s coming back into fashion during the pandemic and life shut in and staying home.

Hand washing and sanitization never went out of fashion, but few knew how to do it well or the importance of doing it often and maybe for everything with which we came into contact. To exaggerate, everyone and their mothers posted a video on YouTube showing us how to scrub hands for 20 seconds, even with the right song for the right amount of time.

As practical, has been the new habit of spraying with alcoholic mixes, which have been shows to kill the novel Coronavirus. Wearing gloves, especially when handling things outside the home has also become one of the new habits.

Ice cream delivery was not something especial in many communities, whether in Jamaica, as a boy, when we would hear a man ringing his bell and riding his bicycle. Back then, we called him ’Fudgie’, as one of the popular offerings was a fudge popsicle; nice and creamy.

As I wrote last weekend, we were all cock-a-hoop when we heard the chimes of an ice cream truck coming along our street and we were lucky enough to get our share, duly masked up and buying from a socially-safe distance.

Lining up for ice cream sundaes on a Sunday may be a thing of the past
Traditional ice cream seller on a cycle, still seen in some places in Jamaica

But, we’ve gone away from the redefinition of convenience shopping–everything in one place and stacked as high as we can see, to a good array of fruit and vegetables in a box that we can browse or have pre-selected and collect ourselves or have delivered to our homes.

One idea whose time might have come again is the drive-in movie, where people would not be in close proximity to any and everyone, but maybe with their friends and family, duly vetted and sanitized. We could be sitting a car’s width apart, and our meals or snacks and drinks would be brought to the car, or we carry our own, which we cannot do nowadays, except for the snacks we habitually sneak in 🙂

Maybe, working from home is the biggest move backwards for many, who saw the house being the centre of life in a real sense to its being so only in a notional sense. The house has once again become the centre of the universe and many are now exploring it to the fullest, at the funniest, the living room is now really where people are living a lot of the time.

It’s early days, but I suspect we’ll see more exploration of ways of doing things that we thought had had their time. We didn’t stop them because they were bad ideas, but seemed to be less convenient. Now, we have to reconsider what that word means.

#COVID19Chronicles-15: April 29, 2020: Rebalancing home-work life; food issues; signs of strain

I have to admit that after well over a decade as a stay-home parent, I get to watch others adjust to life as stay-home people. I’ll resist the temptation to rehearse the snide comments or glazed looks that sometimes came when I described spending my time at home. Suffice to share “What do you do all day? Don’t you get bored?” The fact that I was retired let some to run with the well-worn trope about retirees having time on their hands. That I was a golfer just offered another log to the fire.

Many are now realizing that being at home all day, and having to work, doesn’t offer a life of milk and honey. It can be taxing. If you’re in a household where everyone is trying to get back to their out-of-home schedules, you’ll also be seeing how that doesn’t work out well, often because the adjustment needs a lot of initial frustrations. The Internet or phone systems may not be as robust. The activity cannot be replicated at home (think gym and you may see that those who were rats there are scrabbling around trying to figure out where to stretch and what to lift, and if their imaginations aren’t good, woe be to them). They’re competing for space where it’s already been formed into different shapes. My wife is dealing with colleagues who don’t really have a home office and now have to find a good environment in which to work for weeks, rather than the odd hours in what was previously their private time.

So much of modern life was built around going to and fro, that without that many are rootless, in an odd way, where they should have put down strong roots. It’s funny to see people réalise that they had often spent time escaping their homes.

Of course, pre-COVID19 days were different, not least because most people did not spend most of their days at home and I was the odd one out, or odd few. I’m not snickering, but know that many will find it hard to take the necessary steps and to rebore how they see what they do, but more importantly how they see themselves. Many people presented themselves as their jobs and their workplaces, but now that doesn’t work, not least because few get to see you in those contexts. Odd times, yes.

Finally, people are finding it odd that they seem to be feeling fatigued working from home. There are many reasons for that, one of which is working more intensely for long periods (often without unwanted interruptions). Many people did not have the habit of forcing themselves to take breaks, but that’s one of those necessities when working at home. I often find my productivity to be really high so I get done with things much sooner than expected. I have accepted that this gives me more time to just chill and I take it. I suspect many have not reached for the chill pills, in part because they are still in ‘I’m at work’ mode and think it’s somehow not allowed. I personally think work-at-home schedules should be shorter, say 8.30-3, with a good few breaks in-between. Now, it’s clearly harder to do that when working with teams and maybe over different time zones, but it also forces people to do what I have often seen not done–negotiating clearly your work time preferences. People are often so taken with the idea that their not working full pelt for long hours will be seen negatively, which goes to how poorly people measure productivity rather than product.

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Food security is and will be a complicated story to tell as the pandemic continues. At its most obvious, countries will do whatever they feel is right to secure their own products, and the free flow of food in trade will diminish. Added to that, restrictions on movement and breaks of blockages in the supply chains will cause disruptions in food distribution. We’ve seen that eg in problems getting agriculture harvested (UK) and maintaining industrial processes (eg US meat companies closing). While most countries have closed their borders to some degree to movement of people, cargo, including food is generally still moving in and out.

Jamaica is dealing with a lot of agricultural surpluses as hotels have closed and many farmers struggle for other markets, so eggs fruit and veg, are in abundance and the problems are to find outlets for those (some bought and donated to needy areas, agricultural agencies now arranging pickup points, farmers markets popping up). We’re seeing innovation with food ‘delivery’ and that’s likely to continue, at least in the near term. So, as noted previously, people are finding new outlets for food purchases and offerings, and different ways of food getting to them, whether simple deliveries, or packaged offerings, etc. In our immediate area, our MP has been buying agricultural surplus to distribute to vulnerable inner city communities, but has now widened that to make such goods available to those who can pay, parish-wide, using an idea I’ve floated of creating some bigger ad-hoc farmers markets.

We’ll see how that goes tomorrow.

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Are people feeling antsy about being confined to their homes? Yes. Is that spilling over? Yes, in the home and in their limited interactions outside. We’ve not seen too much of that in Jamaica, but it’s been noted elsewhere, and could include communities deciding to protect themselves by barring movements of people to their areas, especially for recreation purposed.

The fractiousness isn’t a town/country divide but more about communities where stay-home plays out differently—many people aren’t getting wages daily/weekly vs those who are salaried and stil getting paid or can work at home and get paid or are deemed essential and can do their jobs/get paid. But the tussle is more about ‘getting your chance’ to buy vs amongst people for no apparent reason. It’s something to watch.

#COVID19Chronicles-14: April 28, 2020: Exposing weak links

I’m not going to discuss the recent tragic death in Jamaica of a mother during her attempts to give birth, but it shows one glaring reality that is often behind why things fail. No system exists in our world that doesn’t depend on human involvement. Correct me, if I’m wrong; even with so-called ‘artificial intelligence’, a human was involved somewhere along the line of the creation—it didn’t just spring out of nowhere or from the natural world. So, in the case of the death, we have learned of a string of human decisions that did not work in favour of the distressed mother. Who will be found culpable and held accountable is another stage; there will be at least one person.

The weeks, now months, of countries dealing with the COVID19 pandemic keep showing flaws in what existed before. I’m not going to list everything, but will touch on a few that seem noteworthy.

Commuting as a standard feature in how people’s lives were structured; we can blame that on the motor car or cheap fuel, or the development of rapid mass transit systems, but it was a fact of modern life.

Associated with that ease of movement for work, came ease of movement for leisure and the ability to shrink the world with mass transport like airplanes and huge ships, so that time, distance and water were hardly barriers, anymore.

Homes not being the centre of social and economic life. It’s been a long time coming, and we can find fault with the industrial revolution for accelerating the process, but leaving the home for work has also been how life has been structured. At some far-off time in the past, when life was truly agrarian, the fields that were worked were not always adjacent to the home, but they would be a decent close distance, first on foot and then with the aid of animals and then by powered vehicles. Even if some had to leave the home to do gainful activities, the home was often a place of much industry—the term ‘cottage industry’ has literal meaning.

Urbanization has been a huge problem, with the physical, social and economic activity in interconnectedness of large groups of people.

The problems human actions create are often never dealt with by those who create them. At a simple level, the pandemic was started by people acting in ways that are generally thought risky for human health. Once identified, the problems were not corrected by others not following the practices, and those with responsibility taking decision to curb its spread. Fast forward several months and we have countries dealing with the rampant infection. National authorities taking different views about the severity of the problem and how to deal with it.

Citizens are making their assessment of the meaning of the pandemic and acting accordingly, with a range of an overabundance of caution and total disregard for the manner in which the virus is believed to spread. At its simplest, one person meets another less than 2 metres apart, one is masked, the other not; they shake hands, and exchange kisses; their hands touch their faces and then each other. I need not go on. Multiply and modify that a billion times and it’s easy to see that we have a major problem.

We’re never safe in this world simply because of what we do, individually; we need collective action. We cannot run away from danger most of the time. We need others to take care of us as we would ideally take care of ourselves. That simple truth will be at the bottom of how we get out of the pandemic hole. But, as always, the weakest link in the chain of successfully fighting against the virus is another human, and history has proved that there is the weakest link.

#COVID19Chronicles-13: April 27, 2020: What a difference a few weeks make

COVID19 is offering crash courses in several subjects. The main one for many is economics. In the few months since most have had to live with the pandemic and restricted movements imposed by many governments, we have learned about:

-demand (falling in many areas, as people lose jobs and pay, bringing into focus unemployment).

supply (some goods are less available as companies have to close or limit output; agricultural products are in surplus and in danger of rotting; some countries are curbing exports of medical supplies and food; supply chain disruptions are widespread).

prices (rising sharply as shortages bite, maybe some profiteering; falling as surpluses start to appear as chains of activity are disrupted (in Jamaica’s case, we have a glut of agricultural goods because hotels are closed and many farmers find their main markets have disappeared).

financial support (as activities collapse, the need for extraordinary additional resources is clear; nationally, central banks and finance ministries are bringing forward packages; internationally the International Monetary Fund is leading that charge).

budgets (personal ones are getting tested as higher utility bills start to need paying, national ones as more spending and less revenue becomes reality).

I’m not sure if this has infected my teenage daughter, but she has started courses online in Advanced Placement Economics. Say what?!

Another topic is change. Surviving the pandemic means a lot of changes come rushing at us all: out with the old, in with the new. Some of the old that’s gone (at least for now) is commuting. People have had to embrace working from home, with its attendant challenge of reorganizing life at home. Restrictions mean having to make do, and that tends to lead to resistance. We’ve seen that in many forms like the overpaid footballer in the UK having a sex party days before publicly urging people to abide by lockdown rules. But, masses have shown their dislike, either rallies in the USA and resistance to contact tracing plans in France, but also flocking to beaches and parks as weather improves in the northern hemisphere. This was flagrant in mid-March as Florida was flooded by spring break students and continued in many places, with Britons notable for seeming complacency. Videoconferencing is the new skill many are learning by doing. Grandma can’t wait till it’s the next Zoom session. But the ability to use a range of digital technology to communicate in real time, transmit live or recorded video images freely and simply has taken on a phenomenal new life. I ‘went’ to several churches yesterday and was ‘in’ several services, and I was still in my pajamas 🤔🙏🏾 ‘Attendance’ has multiplied. It’s not to everyone’s taste and the ranks of armchair directors have swollen, but go with it. Home delivery, moving goods to people, and kerb side pickups have boomed. In some ways, it’s back to the future and it may be here to stay for a while. For those who can benefit, online ordering and access have been saviours, including of sanity in the case of streaming TV. Vulnerability is the new watchword. Health risks now seem paramount. Jobs gone in a flash. Debts mounting. Coping as teachers without real training. Relatives, friendships and other relationships subjected to physical distancing. Taking nothing for granted starts to really mean something. Generosity is in vogue. Whether it’s food banks, or free access to previously paid-for services, giving something for nothing in return is helping many survive. Few are counting the costs so far, though how long some offers can be sad sustained is an open question.

#COVID19Chronicles-12: April 26, 2020: Sharing is caring—Good friends better than pocket money

Some people are struggling with reality if it means focusing on the reality that is living through a pandemic. There can only be a handful of people alive who lived through the flu pandemic in the early-20th century. Those who have lived through various global or national health scares are also few but they also know that relief came in the form of vaccines. Our modern scares, like Ebola, did not touch far beyond a continent. It’s not my way to steer myself away from this so—called bad news; I prefer to feel well-informed and to think through what I or my family, friends and country can do to deal with this crisis. But, that’s me.

But, one thing people seem to crave in all this are signs of positive news and behaviour that leaves you believing that most humans are well-intentioned and have space in their hearts, minds, and actions for others, not just those in need. It gives hope that if nothing else, a hand or more can be stretched out to help.

One way that is showing up is in the willingness to give or to share. I’ll keep noting that we’re blessed in Jamaica to so far have the problem of surplus local agricultural produce, added to which many people have been doing small-scale farming or urban gardening. So, we’re seeing a push by corporations and politicians to get our surpluses to residents, much of which had been destined for now-closed hotels. Our local MP has again publicized his efforts in this area to help vulnerable households in our inner city areas.

However, I’d like him to make the effort to get such surpluses to other areas in his constituency, where need may be less and people can pay and are ready to help reduce the surpluses. I sent him a message a short while ago.

But, on a smaller and more-intimate scale, the sharing is going on.

Fruits are always in demand, and mango season is one where demand is high and supply is usually ample. We have two Julie mango trees in our yard, and two over hang our yard, one each side. We’re getting an early crop from our main tree and our enlarged household is making good use of them. But, I feel for those who don’t have similar access, so try to give some away often.

I reached out to my cohort of JPs early during the lock down and had an ‘auction’ for 6 mangoes, 1st come, 1st served; they went during the morning. I did another several days later, but did not allow those who got on the first go-round to bid again. Oddly, only 4 of 6 mangoes were taken. I gave two lots away to cousins who live nearby; I also gave to some people who ‘begged’ after seeing my posts about mangoes on social media. One acquaintance, one her way back from RADA, dropped off a squash and cantaloupe melon in exchange–unnecessary but welcome.

One acquaintance begged some during the week and I suggested she come to get. She was in her way to pick up fresh produce from RADA and kindly left me a squash and cantaloupe in exchange 😍👍🏾🇯🇲

But, we’ve been getting, too, as in the 2nd loaf from colleagues-friends up the street 👀👏🏾🙏🏾

One of our security guards brought star apples from his farm in Manchester and promises to do so again after this weekend. My cousin gave me a massive sour sop from her tree, which must have weighed about 7-8 pounds.

We’ve not had to cook and carry meals to anyone, yet, but it may be on the cards, for not other reason than because…It’s a gesture but it can make a big difference to how someone else feels. We know that cooking therapy is becoming a thing for lots of people who now have more time to go with their motivation. I also see that those who had been dabbling in fruit and vegetable gardening are now proudly displaying their crops and others are now taking the bait and starting to plant.

A thank you gift to my doctor stepdaughter
Sweet peppers from a Bahamian sister-in-law’s garden

Live basil included in the vegetable box delivered to my first-born

If it’s really better to give than to receive, then let’s keep on giving.

#COVID19Chronicles-11: April 25, 2020: Needing to adapt

My mother-in-law was complaining the other evening about the smell of Dettol and how she preferred Pine-Sol. It reminded me of a long-running debate about products that are essentially the same, but sold as different brands, especially in the UK versus US markets. These two products are amongst a long list of such items. I didn’t take on the debate and about this whimsical topic, noting that she may be with us for many weeks, yet, and no need to wrankle her; path of least resistance:)

How could I have anticipated that disinfectant would be the topic of the day yesterday, after President Trump suggested hitting the body with heat or light (UV) or injecting disinfectant to kill off COVID19? Surely, he wasn’t serious.

He looked totally serious till the world ridiculed him, then he swung back in typical fashion saying he was being sarcastic.

He was mocked mercilessly on the Internet with images such as ‘Dettol on the rocks’. Major manufacturers issued statements that injecting/ingesting their products was dangerous.

The sarcasm angle seemed hollow once it was know that a letter on the advice had been sent to the president: as the Guardian wrote:

‘The leader of the most prominent group in the US peddling potentially lethal industrial bleach as a “miracle cure” for coronavirus wrote to Donald Trump at the White House this week.

In his letter, Mark Grenon told Trump that chlorine dioxide – a powerful bleach used in industrial processes such as textile manufacturing that can have fatal side-effects when drunk – is “a wonderful detox that can kill 99% of the pathogens in the body”. He added that it “can rid the body of Covid-19”.’

Masks are now essentials that have become fashion accessories. We have seen a little cottage industry develop in recent weeks, in lots of places, as people have used the time on their hands to make their own masks, and we have joined that effort. We got ours from a friend, and we have made some for others including our security guards.

What does a day look like when you spend it outdoors? Butterflies and birds, flitting about and feeding on nectar. Lizards moving from shade to sun to shade. Ants finding crumbs or bigger things on which to feed.

Having made my office outdoors over the past couple of weeks, I’ve enjoyed the changing air around me and moving to shade as the sun shifts. Recent studies indicate that sunlight and vitamin D may help defeat COVID19, so I’m convincing myself that it’s good for my health. My daughter came to join me yesterday morning and stayed through the early afternoon, with a free period then her last lesson of the day, French. Her mother joined us for a while in the early afternoon, decked in headphones and mobile phone till the heat got to her.

My mother-in-law excitedly connected to a Zoom session with her regular Friday bible study group, after her daughter set up the iPad for her. Some in the group are challenged by the technology, but they were glad to see each other, maybe, after several weeks without such contacts. We’ll see how that goes in coming weeks.

Zoom is now the newest way to interact and the family Zoom chat with Nassau after dinner was as cacophonous as usual.

People are adjusting to home confinement in different ways, including being imaginative about things like exercise routines–virtual trainers, laps around the bedroom, walks or rides around the neighbourhood, swimming, running–whatever works.

But, tolerating the confinement has its limits. More voices are being heard calling for easing of restrictions, especially for the sake of avoiding too much economic damage. We’ll see how that works, but it’s also clear that people are not yet ready for business as usual in terms of congregating and doing activities with large groups in confined spaces. So, polls are showing people wary of air travel, going to restaurant, etc.

People are trying to find enjoyment in all this but one of the regular outlets–watching professional sport–has been shot off for weeks (replaced in part by some virtual versions). But, yearning for that and school and other participatory sporting activities is strong and it will be interesting to see what happens as spring turns to summer in the northern hemisphere.

What curfew? Many countries have been in some form of extensive lock down for weeks now. In Jamaica, we have curfews now from 6am through 6pm. Our gardener was here yesterday and seemed very lax about the whole thing, as 4pm came (the time work is supposed to stop), then 5, then 5.45. When asked about his timing he suggested the police were tolerant if you “lean pon 6”, ie just on the cusp of the curfew and heading home. It’s understandable that some wont be able to meet the hours sometimes. Our situation is better than in some of our CARICOM neighbours, though, where movement outside the home is severely restricted during each 24 hours, beyond some essential trips, and the police appear vigilant in enforcing the rules.

For sure, nothing will be the same again, but how much of the old normal returns and when will be something to watch.

#COVID19Chronicles-10: April 24, 2020: So near, yet so far apart

Your home is your castle? Well, how do you like it now that you have to stay there maybe 24/7?

The challenges we are facing during the pandemic are intriguing. I commented to a friend yesterday, that I was distressed to hear so many stories about people who are struggling to spend time at home with their families. I’ve long know a lot of ‘career’ people who enjoyed the imbalance they had created in life by abandoning a real sharing of obligations and leaving a heavy load (often children, domestic tasks) to a partner or others (including schools and teachers). Now, some of that is coming to buck; no place to run, no place to hide.

My wife and I took a decision decades ago to put family life high relative to work and kept some strict rules, such as leaving work by a certain time to be able to get home and prepare and eat dinner with our children.. But, it went beyond just family; we are people of faith and we tried to respect that by how we used our time. For instance, we have NEVER worked during Holy Week; no problem in the UK or Caribbean, where Good Friday through Easter Monday are holidays, but not soin the USA where Christians celebrate Easter Sunday but not publicly the other days around it. Admitted, my wife’s current work involves a lot of travel, she tries to be home for a weekend in the worst of circumstances. We also never were in the habit of bringing work home; the line had to be drawn. But, many others loved to keep them blurred and never really focused on who was not getting their attention, especially if their incomes were high enough to pay off some of the problems, eg with elite private schools or domestic help or fancy trips.

I think the importance we put on family life is having a positive pay-off now. Spending 3 weeks in my mother-in-laws house over many Christmases means that now she is into her 2nd month with us is not an unusual or unbearable situation.

A good friend, who works as a clinical psychologist, was on local TV yesterday morning talking about (couples) communication issues. It’s apparent that many close relationships are being strained. But, some of the points she made that resonated were:

  1. Some men are good communicators; so are some women. Some women are good at communicating certain things, but so too are some men.
  1. Listening to children (and others) is more than just hearing but paying attention to what is really being said. (I like giving our teen pride of place at dinner to share news about her day; she has a voice but empowering her clearly, I think, helps her see that it’s not a bag a words.)
  • When we have to negotiate time and space often, it puts a strain on many things, including our self-perception and our sense of entitlement. Many households have a head, and it’s not about some generalized notion of gender roles, but can also be shared, depending on tasks (which sometimes follow gender lines) which ought to reflect talents and abilities. Navigating those household roles when everyone’s in the picture, rather than flitting in and out as usual, can become tense. Everyone’s previous rights have to be renegotiated.
  • Concretely, my wife has taken possession of the upstairs landing as her office space; she had a desk there but now it’s a fully operational space, with many devices and screens and headphones, and her business is now our business.
  • Our daughter is now in virtual school, and she cleared her room to make for a better working space with a large space on her floor that now doubles as a studio when she decides to do some painting. My wife cranked up WiFi access to make her and our daughter’s Internet access more robust. I’ve carved out space in the kitchen, and latterly moved to a place on the patio. We can all do our ‘work’ without much interruption by each other.
  • My in-laws are floating around from chairs to tables to sofas mainly finding ways to relax and stay in touch with their Bahamian families. Their daily Devotionals are not trivial elements in their lives, but core to how they see life needs to be lived.
  • Our live-in housekeeper rules the kitchen but is also part of our family. That last part is something that Caribbean people will not find strange, but others may think odd; we have used domestic help in our lives at many levels for decades, and the benefits of that have been clear to us and we marvel how in many ‘advanced’ countries people haven’t used their incomes to lighten their domestic loads in this way.
  • Lines are blurred now in what we call work-life balance.
  • Lots of norms are being reset, eg how to work remotely and does it matter what you wear ‘at work’ or if you stay in bed while on a virtual session, and how to read visual cues in a digital setting. Can we sustain friendships without close contact? How hard will life be without Internet access or a home with space? Can people stay home for extended periods if income isn’t assured and food security is an issue?
  • Social distancing is one of the biggest challenges most are facing. However, because we are staying home a lot it’s not something that challenges us too much except for dinner. We have space and can stay 6 feet/2 metres apart most of the time. We have made sure that the protocol is respected by anyone who comes to the house. Friends who’ve come to collect mangoes I offered have picked them up from the front gate post. A young elite swimmer who’s been coming to use our pool passes by the outside of the house, and he and his mother stay as far from the house as they can while he’s in the water. We chat at a distance. It’s part of the new normal. We accept it and respect it.

    We’re getting used to travelling around with our masks and sanitizers, and assume that will be part of life for some time to come, if not forever. Being on good terms with those whom we say we love and care for is vital at any time, but more so now, as what seems like an unending saga goes on for another day, and on, without clear end. That uncertainty really takes a toll on many and having at least a few people close by who can understand and discuss and allay the fears that come with that may prove to be the biggest challenge yet, in the long run.

    #COVID19Chronicles-9: April 23, 2020: Getting into the swing of stay-home living

    We’re overjoyed to have our teenage daughter home with us during the pandemic; she’d come home for Spring break and school is now closed for the duration of the Spring term.

    We sat outside as the sun set last night and were having our now regular al fresco dinner. I like to ask our daughter about her school day, and she’s usually ready to give a full account, including if shezoned out of the virtual lessons sometime or had some technical problems—yesterday, her Internet connection was poor for the start of class; fortunately, sessions are recorded, if needed. We got on with the eating and the conversations that now flow over many topics, including the latest on the pandemic in both The Bahamas and Jamaica. We talked about friends who had to get tested (and came back negative)–the virus is catching a ride and it’s likely that a close friend or relative will be infected, so this is now a likely topic. Two friends of mine in England had already tested positive and, thankfully, got through the symptoms in a couple of weeks and life seems back to normal for them.

    Zoom session
    Long school day done and need to unwind
    Afternoon dominoes

    My wife’s family now has regular Zoom sessions, Wednesday and Sunday. It’s a lot of noise and talking over each other, but they love the link-up. My mother-in-law misses her children in Nassau, so it’s especially important for her to hear and see them and deal with matters big and small in Nassau.

    Stay-home living has to find its own shape and rhythm, and after some 6 weeks, our routines have taken on certain shapes, but nothing is fixed, which is a good thing. It’s funny how fresh can mean just little differences between what was and is. I start my day long before dawn and enjoy the change from dark to light and the early morning bird songs. I catch up with news and think about writing; I’m a regular blogger, and the stay-home routine is ideal for focusing and I’m happy to journal in my own way; I traded a spot on a kitchen counter and love being surrounded by natural things. I’m getting a feel for the rhythm of the birds in our yard, which has a lot of hibiscus and bougainvillea, both nectar and colour. Parrots start cawing and flying around soon after dawn.

    My wife surfaces around 7-7.30 and heads straight into coffee-making, her lifeline 🙂 She reads the papers and may get an early jump on her work or watch some morning. US news.

    Our daughter gets up about 7.30 and school starts at 8.30; she usually organizes some breakfast for herself. Our housekeeper may drop down about 7.30 to get things started for the grands’ breakfast. The grands show up at about 9. It’s nearly ‘lunch’ time for me, by then 🙂 I exercise early, and do some golf drills around dawn, while I’m checking on my yard, which is now yielding Julie mangoes. It’s lovely and cool, then.

    How lucky we are! We have sunshine every day. Some Jamaican friends decided to head to England to be with their adult children once the scale of the pandemic was clear, and have been there about a month. I was exchanging messages yesterday about electricity bill and he was lamenting how they were having to pump up the heating to stay comfortable. He left Jamaica’s need for cooling off, for England’s need to heat up. Hmm. 🙂 In recent days, we’ve been enjoying the occasional heavy breezes during days that have given us highs around 88-90F/32-33C. I’ve taken heed of reports that exposure to sunlight and vitamin D help ward off COVID19, and made my ‘office’ on our deck. It’s a twist on the social distancing need. I’m better placed to watch nature and get in my exercise, even if it’s just walking to and from the house.

    Al fresco working space

    Whist foursomes are now easier to form

    Of course, we”re enjoying our daughter being captive unexpectedly with us. She misses her peers at school, and also those in Jamaica, who are near but so far with having to stay at home. But, she has a lot of contact with her grands. She’s old enough to be able to help them a lot, though her schedule means that from breakfast time to end of her day, they may only glimpse each other for a few moments. Yesterday, was a bit different. She ended her class and came to have her patty lunch with me on the deck. We chatted a bit and then listened to a range of dance music I chose from over the decades. After that, she was summoned to try to resolve a WhatsApp problem with her grand-aunt; that took about a good hour. She headed up for a rest but had to come back to help out again. Then, back to her room. That was around 5pm. We had dinner about 6.45 after the family Zoom-ed and we were all together. She decided to do her homework sitting in a bean bag, while the rest of the family watched a film on TV.

    After some initial problems, we have navigated successfully competing demands for Internet access, especially as my wife and daughter both have major continuous needs during each weekday. My wife organized more powerful WiFi access for her and our kid–I don’t have the password :). I’ve tinkered with the basic set up and have learned a little about how routers conflict and found a variety of workarounds. It’s a bit frustrating because I know competing for bandwidth occurs easily and I just want to try to keep my access seamless. I’ve also learned that not all streaming apps are the same and can be really sensitive in a not-too-consistent way to WiFi buffering. Most of my critical things I try to get done in the wee hours before others appear.

    I crash about 8.30pm and try to relax with some music before dropping asleep. My wife usually heads up by 9.30 and switches over to some US news programme; 😦 usually, I’m dozing off by then. I find the house locked up when I wake next morning. We start to roll again.

    #COVID19Chronicles-8: April 22, 2020: After the policy honeymoon in Jamaica, the bly culture is still our great enemy

    I’m not a political analyst, but try to watch behaviour closely. What politicians do and say matters a lot, by definition, and humans being humans, people take what they do and say personally and to heart, whether they find that favourable or unfavourable. History may look at this pandemic episode from many angles, but one thing that is interesting as it unfolds in about messaging and presentation, and what they may tell us about decision-making processes, but also how substance matters and all the pretty words don’t matter when actions are lacking or wrong.

    The last week or so has been interesting in Jamaica because a marked change in approach came into play–the government decided to lock down a whole parish (St. Catherine); it had already locked down two communities (in Bull Bay and Cornpiece–great Jamaican names, by the way). In theory, you’d think that these two sets of actions were equivalent, just different in scale. But, that’s where you’d be horribly wrong. The two communities had activities and people who are important to them and to Jamaica, but the number and range of these must be few and also limited. The parish (with over 500,000 people, see STATIN population data) has many activities and people who are vital to the functioning of the parish but also (and maybe more significant) to the Corporate Area (including the parishes of Kingston and St. Andrew, which have another 670,000 people). Put that in relation to the national population of 2.8 million and you start to understand the scale of issues that a lock down could present. St. Catherine has a major dormitory town, Portmore, and the former capital, Spanish Town (a bustling town of varied economic activities, including some major enterprises in and near it). The parish provides significant blocks of workers to the corporate area, so their absence immediately suggests that the Corporate Area would have problems functioning well, or at all, without those workers. We can also understand that, in terms of national output, St. Catherine is not a trivial part of the national whole.

    So, when the lock down was announced, many felt the impact immediately, both inside and outside the parish. Restricted movement within the parish plus limitations on when people could shop meant immediate hardship for many. Add to that the initial announcement coming only about two hours ahead of the measures coming into effect; that was bound to cause havoc, as few could have anticipated the need to provide for that. Reports of people fleeing the parish that night were totally understandable for a range of reasons, some related to the virus (why stay to be exposed, if you thought you didn’t have the infection?) and some related to various aspects of economic survival (if you were not exempt but felt you could work/earn in safe and socially distant ways–assuming the best intentions–then, you would be inclined to preserve that option rather than be denied the chance to work for a week). The day after had to be chaotic, as people tried to cram into one day things that they would have expected to be able to do over several days.

    Shoppers lining up, St. Catherine

    People waiting in line at Western Union, St. Catherine

    The food and nutrition needs were compounded by cash needs (much of which was supported through remittances).

    What bothered me and some others was that this did not seem to have been anticipated. As I noted, these are simple obvious logical reactions, not the stuff of complicated logistical scenarios as in some strategic battle.

    I wondered, for instance, why ideas like daily roving bread vans (and eggs?–now in huge surplus), rolling door-to-door did not feature. That’s worrying because any major lock down must provide for getting food to people, not the reverse.

    The schemes put in place, initially, to let people shop (Wednesday and Saturday, by alphabetical groups) were destined to fail, just in terms of what should be expected if you move from 6 whole days to 2 parts of days to do any activity. Jamaica’s biggest religious group is Seventh Day Adventists (about12 percent), for whom the sabbath is Saturday and Wednesdays is observed for fasting. The PM is an Adventist. How did the complications this would pose escape him, or if it did, why no special provision were made? Add that people would be distressed at the possibilities that needs would not be met simply because time was insufficient and many of the reactions are easy to understand.

    In a press briefing on Monday, the PM walked back several of these restrictions and removed some of the immediate and foreseeable problems. New looser, restrictions would be implemented, but with the benefit of another week, also, people’s reactions ought to be more helpful. Curfew times were also changed nationwide, all with effect from today (April 22).

    However, none of that will deal with the restrictions on movement of people out of the parish. The simple facts are that the life blood of the Corporate Area (and so, much of the country) flows better with the people from St. Catherine economically active. Simple example: we had electrical and plumbing problems last weekend, when a solar heater tank’s pipes sheared and water was spouting into the air. The mains and then the relevant valves were locked off. However, for a fix the regular contractors for these jobs live in…St. Catherine. Who to get and from where else were now major issues. The problems got fixed, much later than expected, and further remedial work will have to wait.

    I know the importance of St. Catherine from simply observing the traffic flows into the Corporate Area many mornings, with bumper-to-bumper vehicles from around 6am through 9am and the reverse in the late afternoon.

    Traffic at Portmore, St, Catherine, tolls.

    I have not touched on its internal activities or its relationship to another adjacent sizeable parish, Clarendon. I don’t condone people who tried to escape the lock down, reportedly in car trunks, or hidden some way, but I can easily understand the complicated balance many might have had to find.

    The fact that the proximate reason for the lock down came from the spike of COVID19 infections at a business processing operation (BPO), Alorica, was annoying, frustrating, and bewildering. The sector had already been identified worldwide as a potential problem for incubating the disease because of the nature of its operations, and the company concerned had already shut down its operations in Central America A MONTH AGO, in mid-March. That should have rung alarm bells in Jamaica. Concerns about employment and importance to overall economic growth should have been seen in the context of the national crisis posed by the virus. BPOs are essentially footloose, and can and do open and shut down operations all the time, trying to find the right business balance. One can just look at what Alorica alone has done over the past year to reposition its operations. So, Jamaica cannot and could not protect its position by treating the BPO sector with kid gloves; the same way it could not do that with the cruise ship industry. Jamaica did not buy the reassurances of the cruise industry (though whether a clear demise in likely travellers triggered that may be open to speculation), but it accepted such reassurances from the BPO sector:

    “Health and safety are our utmost concern as we aim to protect our greatest asset: our employees. We have implemented social distancing, hygiene and public health assessment measures,”–Gloria Henry (President, Global Services Association of Jamaica) speaking to a group of BPO operators in a virtual meeting.

    The facts suggest that, even with reported inspections from Ministry of Health and Wellness, this either was not the case or did not matter. We have all suffered, as the spike that took Jamaica from about 100 infections to over 225 (of which, more than 120 were Alorica employees) in the space of a week, tells its own story.